I fiddled mindlessly with the dangling pink chiffon of my pink princess hat with black Mickey Mouse Ears protruding from each side. Beside me, my best friend Chloe donned a life-sized Goofy hat as she clicked through pictures on my digital camera. We sat together on a curb outside of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom waiting for our hotel’s shuttle bus to come retrieve us after an exhaustingly exciting day.
While most kids at our respective high schools had opted to spend their senior year March Break sightseeing in Europe, or getting high in Montreal, we had chosen to embrace our inner children and explore Disney. I had visited Disney World twice as a child, and Chloe had never been, so it was important that we carefully planned every day at every park meticulously. At least, that was my firmly held belief on the matter, and Chloe had to put up with it because I was the expert. We’d arrived in Florida just the previous night and had stayed up late in the hotel analyzing the Magic Kingdom map and planning our route.
The day had been extremely successful, as we’d woken up early, grabbed free breakfast at the buffet and then taken the shuttle to the park. At the park, we had gone on every ride that interested us, taken pictures with all of the characters and bought a ton of souvenirs. My camera was filled with new photos that are were just begging to be uploaded to my new Facebook account. We had even stayed to watch the nightly firework show right before the park closed for the evening and had gotten stuck in some pretty voluminous crowds on our way out.
Now we’d been waiting for this shuttle for half an hour, but nobody else was waiting at this particular location with us. That seemed suspicious. I was beginning to suspect that we’d somehow missed out bus back to the hotel.
“I don’t think it’s coming.” Chloe echoed my thoughts. Maybe we were in the wrong spot. I watched with a pang of envy as a long queue of tourists confidently boarded a large yellow bus across the lot. There were only handfuls of people left out here now.
“What should we do?”
“We can call a taxi to take us back to the hotel.”
“How?” I wondered with a twinge of helplessness seeping into my voice. I glanced briefly at my pink Canadian Sony Ericson slide phone that was utterly worthless in the United States. The roaming fees would be horrendous if I attempted to use it here. And how would I even get the number for a cab, anyway? Cellphones were so stupid back then.
“Let’s ask someone.”
There were fewer and fewer people left to ask. Every minute, another large group of people boarded their shuttle buses and disappeared from the park, back to the safety of their hotels.
Looking for a security guard, I spotted a large white bus with black windows idling nearby instead. Inside was a driver reading a newspaper. We decided we would ask him for help. After a few minutes of bickering over who would have to talk to him, I decided to just do it. My legs ached and my head hurt. I just wanted to get back to our hotel. I knocked on the bus’ door and the driver put down his paper and opened it.
“Hi, um, I was just wondering if you might know when the shuttle for the Sheraton hotel is coming?” I asked, cautiously walking up the bus’ steps.
“You missed the last one about fifteen minutes ago,” he told me dryly, without any of the usual Disney cheer. Damnit! I knew we’d been waiting in the wrong area. My heart sank to my feet. Now what were we going to do?!
“Umm, do you happen to know the number for a cab company?” I asked timidly.
“No.” He replied, his attention shifting back to his paper.
“Oh, okay, thank you anyway.” Dejected, I turned around to get off the bus.
“I can take you,” he suggested. I spun around instantly. Oh thank God. A wave of relief surged through me. I was fixing this. Then he added, “for $50.”
50 dollars!? That was a day’s worth of food at Disney! But what other choice did we have? I certainly didn’t want to be stranded in this parking lot over night. And for all I knew, a cab from Disney to the Sheraton could cost us just as much. I hopped off the bus to confer with Chloe on the ground and asked her what she thought. She just shrugged.
“Okay, we’ll do it,” I decided feigning confidence as we got back on the bus, and he closed the door behind us. I handed over the next day’s lunch money, and we sat behind him in the second row. It was a bit eerie to be on this huge bus alone.
It wasn’t until the bus turned completely off of the Disney property, and took the ramp onto the highway, that a deep sense of terror nudged its way violently into the pit of my stomach. What had we just done?! We were alone on a bus in a city we weren’t familiar with, a good 20 hours from our real homes, from our own country. I didn’t know how to get to the hotel. I had no idea if we were going the right way. We were completely at his liberty. Completely vulnerable. I tried to regulate my breathing.
I glanced over at Chloe in the aisle seat to see if she was as nervous as I was. Her head was cocked lifelessly to one side, her eyes half closed with her mouth hanging open. Shit. She’d have to wake up if we had to fight off this psychopath bus driver! I gazed out the window in a panic. I rested my hot forehead against the glass to feel its coolness against my skin. All around us cars zoomed by in all different directions, all with definite places to be. I tried to make eye contact with the family in the Toyota Camry beside us as traffic slowed down. The curly haired mom in the passenger’s seat looked toward me, but through me, not at me. It occurred to me then that the dark tinting of the windows would prevent anyone from even seeing us inside. We were completely trapped.
I had seen all of the after-school specials. I’d heard all the lectures. I’d watched all the Degrassi episodes. Stranger danger. I knew the risks. I knew the rules. Never accept candy from someone you don’t know. Never meet anyone off of the internet. Never leave your drink unattended. Never ever pay a man in an unmarked bus to kidnap you and your best friend in a foreign country! How had my brain lapsed so hard on that last one?! How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I check the proper pick up location for the hotel bus? Why hadn’t I just called a cab? I tapped my foot nervously on the seat in front of mine, praying that I wouldn’t just burst at the seams. I just wanted to get off this bus.
Not more than five minutes later, we pulled into the familiar entrance of the Sheraton hotel. A wave of relief cascaded over my body in a way I hadn’t expected to be possible. Oh thank God we’d gotten back safely. As we descended from the bus, I thanked the benevolent driver who had taken some time out of his day to help out two stranded 16-year-old girls. The kindness of strangers was still alive and well in Orlando, Florida, for the cheap price of $50 USD.
Maybe Disney really is the happiest place on earth.